The chaos at the airport has been blamed on “inexperienced travellers”. This was almost as annoying as the chaos itself. It was the latest version of the old corporate trick: cut costs, save money, and then gaslight your consumers into thinking it’s all their fault.
All the same, every experienced traveller has learnt their travel skills the hard way. Any competence we may have developed is the fruit of our mistakes, of those times when we really were an “inexperienced traveller”.
Here’s all that I’ve learnt about travel, after years of doing it, usually badly.
Note to self: you don’t need to pack 10 pairs of undies.Credit:Illustration by Kathleen Adele
1. As Proust realised, travel is best in the anticipation and in the recollection. Sometimes, when you are actually doing it, there are times that are tedious, stressful or plain boring. Don’t let this put you off. It was a fabulous holiday during those long months when you were looking forward to it; and it will be a fabulous holiday during the years ahead as you recall the highlights, having forgotten all the disasters. Well, except the funny ones, on which you’ll be dining out.
2. Australian motel breakfasts, delivered to the door, are great – but only if you are six years old. Even then, the best experience is filling in the form the night before. White or wholemeal? Honey, Jam or Vegemite? Special K or Coca-Pops? Oh, what power when you are 6! At all other stages of life, the cafe down the road is better.
3. You don’t need to pack 10 pairs of undies. I mean, how many bums do you have? If you run out, you can wash them in the sink. If you don’t have a sink, you can buy new ones. Here’s the truth to whisper into the ear of the over-packer in your family: “Wagga has shops.” This phrase, depending on your destination, may be altered to make similarly factual observations about Darwin, London, Mexico City or even Timbuktu.
4. If hiring a car, don’t pick it up from the downtown office, a rookie error that leads to three hours of white-knuckled hell for a driver who is new to the city, new to the car, and new to driving on the right-hand side of the road. I did it in Rome two decades ago and the memory still causes my hands to shake.
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5. Pack your medicine. Yes, the world has shops, see above, but not all of them will give you Ventolin without a prescription.
6. When using a seaside amenities block, always wear some form of footwear. In some North Coast locations, just walking in direct sight of the building can cause the loss of a foot to tinea.
7. When flying long-haul to, say, London or Madrid, certainly have a chat with the person seated next to you. It can bring a pleasant moment of diversion. But here’s the important bit: the chat should commence when 20 minutes from landing, not 20 minutes after takeoff.
8. Whether you are staying at the Gold Coast or the Costa del Sol, ignore the cafe facing the beach, and pick somewhere a block inland. You’ll be able to enjoy the amazing view after you’ve enjoyed your superior, cheaper, coffee.
9. Don’t just take two electric adaptors, you’ll need a double adaptor as well. Strange but true, even the fanciest hotel or Airbnb seems to economise on power points.
10. Take a change of clothes on the flight. A total misadventure, in various forms, is surprisingly common. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes the baby in the next seat, and sometimes the dodgy chicken sandwich at the airport; whatever the cause, you’ll never value a clean T-shirt more.
11. Make sure you write down the PIN for your credit card, but in a way that’s disguised as a phone number, with random digits on either side. Then put it in your phone under Barry Westpac or Maureen Nab. Not only will this confuse foreign thieves, but it’ll also give you a laugh every time you scroll through your phone.
12. If travelling with a friend put half your clothes in their bag, and half their clothes in yours, so if you lose one bag, you’ll both have something to wear.
13. Embrace any excuse to divert from the beaten track. A distant cousin to visit, the birthplace of a favourite writer, a random entry in the wartime diary of a great-great-grandfather: the more unusual your destination, the more rewarding the journey.
14. Beware of any TripAdvisor review in which the manager is described as knowledgeable, good-looking, hard-working or deserving of promotion, as it will always have been written by the manager or their mother.
15. Don’t visit 31 cities in 31 days, unless on a trip organised by the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1976. Five days in one place are always better than five places in one day.
16. Don’t let airports and airlines blame you for their problems. They sold you the ticket. They are supposed to get you there. Happy travels.
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